Raise a festive glass

Alison Zwaard with one of her fused glass exhibits at Handmade for Christmas, Millennium Gallery
Alison Zwaard with one of her fused glass exhibits at Handmade for Christmas, Millennium Gallery

This year’s Handmade for Christmas showcase at the Millennium Gallery features a record number of local artists, with fused glass practitioners Alison Zwaard and Martin McAssay among them.

Participating for the second year, Alison extols the merits of the annual showcase of handmade contemporary British craft and design.

“It’s so important that we have this, where people can come here to do their Christmas shopping,” she says. “They can get some unusual fabulous works of art made with love and integrity and at the same time support and help to keep the doors open in these difficult times for the gallery.

“I have always been fascinated by glass since I was a child looking at stained glass windows in church and being struck by the beauty and the effects of the light.

“Only about nine months ago I discovered my great-great uncle in Liverpool had a company which made stained glass windows for cathedrals and churches. Perhaps there is something in my genes.”

She began by collecting glass objects and then signed up for adult education classes in fused glass.

After honing her skills, she bought a kiln and set up a studio at home. “Then I decided to start running workshops and discovered I had a flair for teaching,” says Alison. Her Handmade in Nether Edge studios now offers full-day workshops at weekends which includes a lunch (prepared by Alison), not just in fused glass, but Precious Metal Clay and Silver Jewellery.

“It’s creative and fun, a great way for people to tap into their creativity. People move on from the beginners workshops to the Tuesday and Friday sessions I run.”

As a fused glass artist she undertakes commissions such as a recent panel for the new wing of St Luke’s Hospice. Examples of her work in Handmade for Christmas include festive tree hangings and marine inspired panels.

Martin McAssey is based at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and runs daytime and evening stained glass classes from the site.

He also sells Christmas decorations, coasters, window hangings and necklaces online.

For him too a stained glass evening class was the start of a 20-year journey to becoming a professional stained glass artist and teacher.

Starting by making stained glass art for family and friends, he progressed to commissions as word of mouth spread and then took the opportunity to train and qualify as a teacher.

Five years ago Martin left behind a career in IT to go full-time as a stained glass artist and teacher.

“I opened a small studio in my home and spent the next few years continuing to build the business and last year I was offered the opportunity to move into one of the new studios at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet,” he says.

Handmade for Christmas continues in the Craft and Design Gallery of the Millennium Gallery until January 10 .